When Ania returns to Les Épinettes for her estranged father’s funeral, she discovers that a political brouhaha has erupted in the latest novel by Swiss writer Kramer (The Child, 2012, etc.).
Unbeknownst to her, her dad, Gabriel, a prominent left-wing radio journalist, had recently been fired from his job. The termination, Ania learns, followed an on-air diatribe in which the 57-year-old had voiced support for two white Frenchmen who had brutally—and for no apparent reason—murdered an African immigrant. Ania had heard nothing about the well-publicized incident before returning to her childhood village. In fact, the apolitical Ania has been living in a near bubble since leaving home decades earlier. Her day-to-day routines have been simple: she goes to work and cares for her young son, Theo. As a divorced single mom, Ania is content to keep her nose to the grindstone. Her lack of civic engagement, however, ends when news of Gabriel’s suicide reaches her. Not only does she have to process this abrupt loss, she also has to grapple with her father's festering racism. In addition, she has to interact with her father’s wife, Clara, an efficient, cosmopolitan professional who is about her own age. The proximity grates, especially since Ania and Gabriel had never been close or confided in one another. As the back story unfolds, the novel delves into anti-immigrant sentiment and the resentments that have erupted between newcomers and longtime European residents. It’s fraught, and the violence lurking beneath the surface is palpable. At the same time, the father-daughter tensions are revealed in fits and starts and never fully gel. We learn, for example, that Ania’s mom died in an accident, but whether Gabriel had a hand in this remains unclear.
A timely if sketchily drawn look at the rise of bigotry and the ways racial and ethnic tensions play out in one French community and family.